Could you imagine 2020 without the internet? Pandemic updates via the radio perhaps; rewatching the same DVD series over and over again in lockdown; arguing with family over who’s been hogging the phone line for the past two hours. Our quality of life is reliant on being digitally connected; Maslow’s ubiquitous hierarchy of needs (you know, this one) has basically morphed from a pyramid into a rectangle, a screen. Through a digital portal, we can stream exercise videos and order groceries (basic needs, according Maslow); zoom with friends and take online courses (psychological needs); and attend religious services (traditional or heretical, take your pick!) or utilise one of the many meditation apps on offer (self-actualisation needs).
Yet, there’s an underbelly of being hyper-connected, as has been a repeated lesson of the human condition throughout history. For example, the end of the 19th century – the fin de siècle – was on one hand an exciting and revelous time riding high on the Industrial Revolution yet it also gave rise to anxiety and degeneracy. Being surrounded by crowds only heightened the feeling of anonymity and so we have paintings of very lonely, depressed people (anomies) drinking absinthe in bars, alone (thank you, Degas).
The Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) – which has had its pedal to the metal with producing digital content since the beginning of [insert flurried hand waving] whatever we call this period of communal existential dread – has delivered once again a beacon of artistic guidance with their new exhibition Hyper-linked curated by Isobel Parker Philip. Presenting new work by seven Australian artists, Hyper-linked is an entirely digital exhibition and processes the paradoxes of being disconnected in the age of hyper-connectivity. The artworks question the reality of our relationships, the warpedness of our search for meaning and the changes in our social habits, making for a deeply personal exhibition ‘visit.’
First on the exhibition homepage is Heath Franco’s HOME VIDEOHOME (2020), a highly-charged surreal video drenched in Web 2.0 aesthetics. It’s a dystopian nightmare of a trip down a search engine rabbit hole. The costumes and uncanniness also speak to Justene Williams’ The unboxers (2020) – an intimate vignette into life at home, highly absurd in its own way. And just a click away is Matthew Griffin’s work Hello visibility: Darts, Sites, Bricks, Hearts, Roads (2020). The series of videos take moments of pandemic life as their launch point: social distancing, toilet paper hoarders, online tutorials, and facile affirmations found on the internet (“I wasn’t motivated A.F.” he drawls).
From here, Hyper-linked evolves to a more sombre disposition. Brian Fuata’s documented performance work of a house besieged (preposition tweaked) (2020) was filmed in the foreboding exhibition space of the AGNSW, after its abrupt closure due to COVID-19. The idea of a house as a place of uncertainty and duress is certainly a communal feeling right now; never – in recent memory – have we been grounded for such an extended period of time. However home is not the same for everyone. JD Reforma’s video I want to believe (2020) takes place atop his rooftop – “a boundary between home and the heavens, confinement and escape.” He is referring to the many people for whom home is a dangerous place, the site of intimate partner violence. In his work, Reforma writes the words I want to believe over and over again onto the rooftop cement, reminiscent of people writing the letters S.O.S on stranded islands.
With your mind abuzz with food for thought, you may feel the need to chat things out with someone/something. Amrita Hepi’s work Cass (2020) is a textbot; you’ll have to send her a message to see what happens. However, don’t expect her to be like Alexa and Siri; Cass is no servant. The most interesting message I’ve got from Cass so far? “My god, You have no idea the distances I would travel just to disappoint you.” If you’re seeking positive affirmation, you’ll be better in luck with Kate Mitchell’s work The Communication Deck (2020). The online oracle is interactive; give it a shuffle and pull out a card to receive your advice.
Unlike many exhibitions that have been digitised after-the-fact and shown online, Hyper-linked consists of digital works made specifically for digital viewership. The exhibition speaks to the conflicted, absurd and intertwined realities we experience when overly reliant on digital interaction.
So, go ahead and log on from the comfort (or discomfort) of your home here.